How to Help an Alcoholic Who Doesn’t Want Help

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Do you love someone who is struggling with an alcohol-use disorder? It can feel disheartening when you have tried talking to the person you love about their drinking, and they don’t make a change. You may not know what to say or do, or perhaps it leads to conflict because you feel like you’re not being heard or understood. How do we get someone to understand the importance of seeking treatment when they don’t think their drinking is a problem

If you are concerned about someone’s drinking, you don’t have to navigate this alone. Please reach out to Guardian Recovery to speak with experts who can give you information and guidance in helping your loved one begin their journey toward wellness. We have a customized, comprehensive treatment program to address the needs of individuals with alcohol dependence. If you would like to learn more about treatment options, we are here to help. Reach out today to learn more about our various levels of care and evidence-based therapies

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Tips for When an Alcoholic Won’t Get Help

Here are some helpful tips when you have a loved one who refuses to recognize they have an alcohol-use disorder. Understand more about the problem, what you can do to take care of yourself, and how to communicate your feelings effectively to prevent conflict or rupture of the relationship. 

Educate Yourself

Let’s increase our awareness of addiction, find ways to communicate effectively, and understand the cycle of change so that you feel prepared to support your loved one through this process. Being informed on addiction can help us remain empathetic and compassionate, two necessary components in helping someone in their journey toward recovery.  

What is an Alcohol-Use Disorder?

Alcohol-use disorder (AUD) is a clinical diagnosis describing a person’s alcohol use as excessive drinking that disrupts a person’s life. The excessive use of alcohol may impair a person’s health, relationships, and financial stability or even create legal problems. 

Patterns of Excessive Drinking:

  • Women and men over 65- Having more than 1 drink per day or more than 7 in one week. 
  • Men under 65- Having 2 drinks per day or more than 14 per week. 
  • Binge drinking-5 or more standard drinks for men and 4 or more for women within two hours.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), AUD is a spectrum disorder that ranges from mild to severe. It can create lasting changes in a person’s brain that make people vulnerable to relapse. However, the good news is that people can benefit from successful treatment and recovery no matter how severe their alcohol-use disorder may be. 

How Motivational Interviewing Can Help

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is an evidence-based therapy used to help people identify if they have a problem and need to change their behavior. It is often the first step of treatment when a person may have an addiction or problematic behavior they need to change. 

The primary purpose of MI is to balance how we communicate between actively listening and giving advice. It is designed to empower individuals to make a change and focuses on being curious and respectful when understanding a problematic behavior. 

You can use the main components of MI, known as OARS, to help have a constructive conversation with your loved one and their alcohol use. 

Motivational Interviewing Components: 

  1. Open Questioning — Allows your loved one to share more about their thoughts and feelings.
  2. Affirming — You should use affirmations heavily in your conversations with your loved one. 
  3. Reflecting — This shows active listening, which can be one of the most challenging steps in MI. 
  4. Summarizing — Reinforces what has been said and shows you have been listening. You don’t have to agree with the person to summarize their point of view. 

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Stages of Change

Another therapy technique to understand the motivation to change behavior is known as Stages of Change. This theory is not only for people who want to recover from addiction but relevant for all people who want to improve an area in their life. 

The Stages of Change:

  • Pre-contemplation — Denial of the problem. 
  • Contemplation — Conflicted emotions about the problem. 
  • Preparation — Collecting information or making small changes. 
  • Action — Direct action toward your goal. 
  • Maintenance — Engaging in new behavior and avoiding temptation.  
  • Relapse — Falling back into old behavior. 

Understanding these stages can help you see where your loved one may be with readiness for change and how you can support them in their journey to recovery. 

Be Patient

Having patience is necessary if you want to help your loved one take steps toward seeking treatment for their alcohol-use disorder. Understand that in the beginning, your loved one may be in the pre-contemplation stage or deny that they even have a problem with alcohol. 

You don’t have to convince them that you are right and they are wrong. Keep using open-ended questions and reflective listening skills to help your loved one through this process. However, there is a difference between validating and enabling an addiction. Perhaps that means setting boundaries to let your loved one know that you are there to love and support them but will not tolerate the behavior if it continues. 

Remain Compassionate and Empathetic

If you’ve never struggled with an addiction, this may be very difficult for you to do. You may have thought, “Why can’t you just stop?” However, some strategies can help you learn how to show compassion and empathy even if you have never experienced an addiction yourself. 

Ways to Practice Compassion and Empathy:

  • Practice self-compassion.
  • Understand that many addictions happen because of trauma.
  • Put yourself in their shoes and how it feels to be them.
  • Imagine if this were a child feeling this way. Would you remain critical? How do you feel about the child? What does that child need? 

Remember to Care For Yourself First

If you are not prioritizing your health and well-being, you will most likely be unsuccessful in helping your loved one in their recovery. It is necessary to take care of yourself before you can care for others. A meaningful way you can care for yourself is by setting boundaries. It can be emotionally overwhelming and traumatic to love someone with an alcohol-use disorder.

Giving yourself space and time away to focus on yourself can help. Secondly, seek therapy for yourself. You can work with someone individually to help you cope with the stress or join a support group such as Al-Anon. Finally, recognize that there is only so much you can do. Ultimately, it is up to your loved one to agree to treatment and do the work. Focus on what you have control over and what you need for peace. 

What To Avoid When Talking to a Loved One About Alcoholism

In addition to understanding what one should say or do to help a loved one seek treatment for alcohol use, here are some tips on what not to do. These actions will further strain the relationship, keep your loved one stuck in the cycle of addiction, increase risks of aggression or violence, and make your loved one less likely to reach out for help. 

 What Not to Do When Talking to Loved One with AUD: 

  • Do not lecture.
  • Avoid blaming or making accusations.
  • Do not argue with your loved one. 

Can You Force Someone To Go to Rehab?

What can you do if someone you love needs rehab and actively refuses to go? In extreme cases, there is something called civil commitment. To begin this process, family members must file a petition through the court and request that their loved one be mandated to complete substance abuse treatment. 

There are currently 35 states that allow for civil commitment. However, the terms vary considerably from each state, and there are specific criteria one must meet for mandated treatment to be granted. Specific criteria include having a significant disability, being dangerous to self or others, inability to make decisions, and being unable to care for oneself. For most states, civil commitment will only happen if the person at risk poses an immediate threat to self or others. There are mixed opinions on whether someone should be mandated to seek substance abuse treatment. 

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At Guardian Recovery, we believe that family is a crucial part of the recovery process. Addiction doesn’t just impact one person but the entire family. We have developed a comprehensive recovery program to address the whole family system, including family therapy and a Family Retreat Workshop.

In addition to a free telephone assessment to evaluate your family’s needs, we also can provide a no-obligation insurance benefit check at your convenience. 

You don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Contact us today to begin hope and healing. 

SELF-ASSESSMENT:

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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